Community game of hide and seek with WNC Rocks

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The large group of parents and children running around town on the search for something this summer aren’t holding out their cellphones, so it isn’t a game of Pokemon Go. The latest way young people are getting outside is to place and find painted rocks. The trend is catching on in Bryson City, Sylva and the surrounding area. 

While it does offer some technology free time, this is 2017 after all, and there is a social media element with the Facebook group WNC Rocks where people are posting pictures of rocks they hide and when they find them. The backs of the rocks are marked WNC Rocks to identify that they came from this area.

Mary Freitas, who lives in Whittier during the summers started WNC Rocks, and the Facebook group has grown considerably this summer up to nearly 3,000 people. 

She belonged to a group in Florida and wanted to bring the idea here as a way to spread happiness and get families outside.  

“I’ve gone to the parks in Florida with my grand-daughters, and I’ve seen families out together hiding and collecting rocks, even older couples together hiding rocks. It’s just a beautiful effort,” Freitas said. “Nobody had anything going here, so I started it.”

She began with hiding rocks in Sylva and Dillsboro. Pretty soon, some of the women who live in the same campground also got into painting rocks. 

“It’s about joy. It’s about doing something for somebody that they didn’t expect. Some of the rocks have motivational words on them faith or hope,” Freitas said. 

It also gets young people away from computer screens and can be a relaxing outlet for people of any age. 

“Obviously, Western North Carolina is a beautiful area. If you can get kids outdoors instead of stuck inside on electronics it’s a great thing,” Freitas said. 

Painting parties have popped up in Sylva, at Darnell Farms and even at local daycares and summer camps. 

Before the July 4 holiday, children at Lots-A-Tots painted a bunch of red, white and blue rocks and then staff hid them in town. She said the kids are loving it. 


Families painting

“It’s a way for the community to be a part of each other without having to gather together,” said Kortney Kincaid, who works in downtown Bryson City at Donno’s Tattoo Parlor and lives in Jackson County. She paints rocks with her three-year-old daughter Harley.

She found out about the WNC Rocks through her mom, Jme Kincaid. Jme started painting the rocks because it’s relaxing. Now, Kortney and Harley paint rocks about twice a week. 

“She loves it. We can just go in our yard, find rocks, clean them up and she can choose colors and do whatever she wants to on these rocks,” Kortney said. 

The effort is a way for the mom and daughter to get out. 

“She loves to go out and walk around in nature and on Main Street—anywhere that gets us out

She’s not in daycare so it’s just me and her most of the day so for us to go and have a walk and bonding time together is good, and she loves painting,” she said. 

Friendships have also grown out of WNC Rocks. Freitas met Jamie Sue Clonch and her family through the effort, and now they are all close friends. 

Clonch’s nine-year-old twins first got into the painted rocks after they found their first painted rocks in downtown Sylva last summer. 

Jamie Sue said it has brought them together as a family, and even her older children at 25 and 21 join in on the fun. 

“Now it’s family time,” she said. “Before, we would come home, cook and then everyone would be on their own iPads or phones. Now, we cook, eat and then have family time painting rocks. We’re all sitting together and then we go out take the dog for a walk and find rocks or hide rocks together. It’s great.”

Bella said they were thrilled when they found their first painted rocks. 

“How it started was we had a friend and he showed us these rocks, and they were pretty cool. He showed us them and told us about them, and we were checking the flower pots,” she said. “We were so excited to find one, and I found one it was like a butterfly—it was beautiful.”

Bella said it’s interesting to see “all the art on the rocks and everybody’s interpretation of their art on their rocks.” She also said she enjoys spending time with her family finding and hiding rocks and that their dogs are funny sometimes on their walks. 

“The other thing is the kindness to be able to make someone else smile and happy,” Bella said. 

People are getting creative with painting rocks. Some are using metallic paint, glow-in-the-dark paint or adding googly eyes to their rocks. Clonch and her family have even started monthly challenges. This month, they are painting Disney themed rocks and recently painted a fairy cottage and rocks to go with it.

“I like spending time with my family too and painting,” William said. “I did one where I had this cabin and thunderstorm with thunder and lightning and rain, and it was night time, so it was really cool because it came out pretty good. I was pretty amazed. I really liked it, so I also have these other ideas where I do Pokemon, and they come out pretty good too.”

He has more ideas too.

“I might put a Gatorade symbol on a rock and hide it down in the baseball field in Dillsboro in the dugouts. Then, I might get a few more rocks and paint a little kid with a phone going ‘chit chat, chit chat, chit chat.’”

The phenomenon is not exclusive to this area. Freitas points to Love Rocks, which was founded in memory of Anna, 6, and Abigail, 11, who died unexpectedly in 2013 in a car crash. Their parents decided they would not let tragedy define their loss, and decided to instead spread love and joy through rocks with fabric hearts Mod Podged onto river rocks. Today, the Facebook page Love Rocks has more than 32,762 likes. Visit to learn more.

WNC Rocks, with mostly painted rocks, is also like The Kindness Rocks Project, founded by Megan Murphy, who lost her parents at a young age and would walk along the beach and picked up small treasures that she thought of as inspirational or divine signs. She started painting rocks hiding them, and soon received messages from people about how much they meant to them. The effort has become worldwide. Learn more about it at 

Rocks painted by people locally in Western North Carolina are traveling, and some visitors are bringing the idea back to their own communities. Jennifer Walton said her family found a painted rock by accident in Dillsboro, and they decided to start a group in their hometown in Mississippi and marking the back of the rocks with southernmissrocks.

“People have already started hiding, and I contacted the local library, and they are going to do paint parties,” Walton said. “I think it’s a great idea and a way for families to have fun together.” 

Smoky Mountain Times

Mailing Address:
PO Box 730
1 River Street
Bryson City, NC 28713 
Phone: 828-488-2189
Fax: 828-488-0315